Monday, April 2, 2018

How Tyler Contributes

Some time ago I explored Tyler's relationship with the church, and with religion in general.  I theorized that Tyler benefits from going to church by feeling the fellowship and acceptance of the others in the congregation.  Just having God's love surrounding him is something he may experience in ways we do not know about.  Its obvious that he enjoys his time there and seeing his friends and family.  He enjoys the music.  And he enjoys a feeling of participation.  If I knew nothing else about how he felt on the subject, this would be enough.

The sad truth is, however, that many churches would not welcome Tyler with open arms.  Even fewer would go out of their way to accommodate and invite more special needs people to attend.  Fewer still would make Tyler a member and baptize him.

This discussion is very much at the heart of why I had left organized religion for so long.  I believe (and I represent only myself in these words) that many churches and congregation members have the absolutely wrong idea about what a congregation should look like, or act like, or aspire to.  Church is not a fashion show.  Its not a place to gossip, or to judge other people.  Its not about gourmet coffee and assigned seats.  

Instead, we should ask ourselves "how much do we reach out to invite the poor, the addicted, and the disabled?"  These are the people that we are called to serve, and these are the people that we should embrace having around us to hear the word.

Back to Tyler.  While I had addressed the points of how church has impacted Tyler's life, I hadn't given enough thought to how he impacts the church.  How does Tyler contribute to his congregation?

The entire family tries to contribute in different ways.  Samantha helps with communion at times, and participates in the youth choir.  My wife helps make food for events.  My wife's parents make food and attend various groups.  I collect canned goods, host the spring yard sale, and assist with security.  I don't cook because we want to encourage people to come, not scare them away.  These are all just small ways we try to give back.

What about Tyler?  How could a young man who is non-verbal and severely disabled give back to others?  

He is going to give them Bibles.  You see, Tyler has a monthly amount that he gets to cover his rent and other expenses.  What remains is for us as his guardians to decide how to spend it on him.  It will often go for clothes, special foods, etc.  Or he shops for x-mas gifts for the family.  Its a challenge at times to think "what would Tyler want?" when he really has very little regard for material items.  One thing I do know about Tyler is that he would want to enrich the lives of those who share their time with him.  He loves to make people smile and to be happy with them.  So, on his behalf, we will be donating some Bibles to the church for those who need a new one or can't afford one.  It will be stamped on the inside cover that it has been donating with love by Tyler.  

Tyler is going to place a beautiful gift in the hands of those who need it.  That gift may help another person open their hearts and change the course of their spiritual journey.  

We are so proud that he uses his very attitude, presence, and perseverance to inspire those around him to continue to progress in their faith and their lives.  We are proud that he inspires me to write and spread his story of love as far as the internet will reach.  And we are proud that he can give such a wonderful gift to those who are looking for the word.

Be well and God bless.    Tom

Friday, March 9, 2018

Happy Birthday - Here's Your Panic Attack

A co-worker and friend of mine had a panic attack this week.  It was extremely scary for him and quite debilitating.  Fortunately I was able to help him because I too have suffered from panic attacks.  

About 7 years ago...on my birthday...I experienced my first panic attack.  Its an experience I will never forget.  I was walking in the Chicago Midway airport toward my gate when I felt my pulse pick up.  I thought maybe I had had a little too much soda and the caffeine was messing with me.  As I walked a little farther I felt myself getting short of breath and my heart racing.  No matter what I did I couldn't settle down.  It was the feeling of needing to run straight out of the building and into the fresh air.  I even considered that I was having a heart attack.  

Now, let me tell you how the typical male mind works.  I was in the middle of my first panic attack, not knowing it was a panic attack and actually afraid I was having a heart attack, and I was concerned that I would miss my flight.  I knew that the flight to Memphis was the last flight of the night and if I missed it I would miss my morning training and have to answer for it.  Heaven forbid anyone know what was happening to me!  So I boarded the plane and passed out as soon as I sat down.  

Those who have never experienced a panic attack don't understand the overwhelming signals your mind is getting.  Its like a circle of people pushing you from one side to the other, screaming in your ear, and slapping you faster than you can defend yourself.  Its a feeling that you are going to die, while knowing that you are not really going to die.  The signals to your brain don't match anything that is happening.  

A problem with panic attacks is that they may not seem to make sense.  My opinion goes like this:  when we try to swallow our issues and anxieties we push it down.  The next time we push it down.  And again.  And again.  And eventually there is no more room to push it down.  Just like a garbage bag, if you keep smashing garbage into it, you will run out of room, and the next time you mash more garbage in, the bag splits.  I personally believe that a panic attack is when the brain makes the decision that its filled to the top with stress and it decides to kick some back.  

For a long time I feared the panic attack.  And my anxiety LOVED THAT!  It basically fed on itself.  I got anxious about having an attack, which made me more likely to have one.  The more I had, the more afraid I became, and the more I had, and the more afraid I became, and the more i had.  it was a disorder that fed itself!  

Caregivers are especially vulnerable to panic attacks.  We worry every minute of every day.  And when we don't worry, we worry that we aren't worrying.  Its a vicious cycle.  It leads to panic disorders, depression, physical ailments, and suicide.  

So how do we combat this?  How do we keep ourselves from becoming so overwhelmed?  For me it was about owning it.  It sounds easy enough, but most humans hate to admit their weaknesses.  We might be afraid that people will look down on us.  Men are afraid to look like they have any weakness at all.  We might be afraid to compromise our jobs.  The problem is that hiding it makes matters much worse.  Its an added pressure when our garbage bag is already full.  I found that being open about it helped.  As a matter of fact, when I opened up about it, other people admitted they had the same issues.  Still others offered to help me through my vulnerable situations.  People didn't judge me like I thought they were going to.  Once I came to terms with it and opened up about it, the anxiety lost much of its power.  

Here is my advice to those fighting anxiety and panic; you have to take away the power that it has over you.  By admitting it, owning it, and dealing with it head-on, you fight back.  It wants you to feel afraid and ashamed so it can come back on you.  When you talk about it and comes to terms with it, it loses its grip.  I've already told groups that I speak to that I have anxiety and to simply ignore me if I pass out, and we laugh about it for a minute, and suddenly the anxiety loses its grip. 

Anxiety wants you to lose your faith, shrink in fear, and empower it.  Do the opposite, have faith, stand tall, and take the power away from it.

Be well and God bless.    Tom

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Fixing the World

Many of us are facing these difficult times wondering how things will ever turn for the better.  I look at Tyler, and I look at Samantha, and I wonder what things will be like in 5 years, or 10, or 20 if we as a society remain on the course that we are on now.  It seems as though our willingness to care for each other is at an all-time low.  Somehow we have become empowered by finger-pointing and disrespecting one another.  Caring for each other is seen as a "weakness" for some strange reason.

How do we fix this?  Where do we start?  It is such a big world and there is no way a single person can even make a dent in all of the problems we face today.

We fix the world one neighborhood at a time.  Most great movements are started from the ground up.  We may not be able to control what happens states away and countries away, but we can control what happens in our back yards.  It simply requires a willingness to be different.  It requires a small group of people to decide that they want to live differently than the rest of the world is living.  

Our neighborhood is a good example for others to follow.  When there is a significant snow, nearly everyone fires up the snow throwers and clears the driveways and sidewalks.  Young kids walk the streets looking for people that they can help dig out.  

Another great idea that we have done here is to have a neighborhood Facebook page.  On that page we alert each other to dangers, buy and sell from each other, and help each other find lost pets.  We've used it to collect canned goods for families in need.  We've collected clothes for homeless families.  We've raised money for school events.  In the process of doing all of these things we've gained a sense of pride in the power of a good neighborhood.  We have community yard sales, and Halloween is like a block party.

There is incredible strength in the power of a community.  When a community watches out for each other and helps to report problems, the word gets around.  When a community takes pride in the appearance of their yards and common areas, it catches on.  When people next door to each other CARE about each other, it multiplies.  Over time the community gets a reputation as a "good neighborhood" where people want to live.  

We can't change the world, but we can demand respect and compassion in our own homes.  We can be good neighbors, and good stewards of our streets.  And if we do those things, we can change a piece of this world.  With God's help maybe one piece will connect with another, and another, and another.

Be well and God bless.    Tom

Friday, March 2, 2018

Meeting Nicole

Robin, Samantha and I were waiting in the foyer of our favorite pizza place tonight, anxious to sink our teeth into some pizza and fries.  The door to the restaurant swung open and three ladies stepped in out of the blustery winds outside.  One in particular hollered out very loudly about the weather outside, almost to a degree that my initial reaction was to feel slightly annoyed.  But then I immediately realized that this was a special young lady.  And at this very moment I met Nicole.

Nicole immediately exclaimed that she was going to a horse show tomorrow!  She wanted to know our names, and she was overjoyed to see pictures on Samantha's Ipad.  Most of all it seemed she just loved the interaction.  In so many ways she reminded me of Tyler.  They both enjoy long car rides, they both enjoy looking at pictures, and they both have times where their speech volumes can peak at pretty high volume.   Best of all, they both seem to enjoy their importance to other people.  They like being liked.

Her Mom was very open about talking with us and sharing a little bit of their story with me.  We were happy to share Tyler's story as well.  As it turns out they are both the same age and live in similar size residential homes.  Its amazing how much we had in common in just a ten minute interaction.  I was very proud of Sam and how well she interacted with Nicole as well.

Once we were seated in a booth, Nicole's family was seated in the booth next to ours.  Every once in a while I'd look up and Nicole would get excited and wave.  She even stopped and sat with me for a moment on the way back from a potty break.  I think I had made a friend for life.

On our way out we stopped to show them a picture of Tyler, and Nicole grabbed my phone and yelled "Oh my..I LOVE him!".  We smiled and talked about that all the way home.

As I've said before, I've gotten to meet so many wonderful special needs families in my travels.  It's comforting to make contact and assure each other that we are not alone out there.  

I can honestly say I will never forget Nicole and her family.  They are the very definition of grace, beauty, and dignity.  I'm proud to have crossed paths with them, and I hope Nicole has the greatest horse show ever.

Be well and God bless.  Tom

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Happy Birthday Buddy

Tyler,

This week you turned 26.  It's funny, I still remember when you were just a small boy.  It doesn't seem that long ago that I walked an 8-mile benefit with you on my shoulders.  It doesn't seem that long ago that you walked next to me through the park.  It doesn't seem that long ago when we were both young and uncertain of who we were and what the future held for us.
Seeing you today was a lot of fun.  But at the same time it is hard.  Its an opportunity for all of those anxieties to come roaring back.  I sense the same thing from you.  You love seeing all of us but you have to keep moving forward in your life.
Just please remember that I love you every single day of your life.  You are never forgotten, and we talk about you often.
26 years old.  You are a beautiful young man with a tremendous heart.  Your courage is what sets you apart from anyone else I have ever known.  Your spirit is no less than amazing.